Category Archives: Fundamental rights

AG Szpunar in Stichting Brein v Ziggo: An Indirect Harmonisation of Indirect Liability?

In the following piece, Christina Angelopoulos, Lecturer in Intellectual Property Law at the University of Cambridge, analyses the recent Opinion by AG Szpunar in case C-610/15, Stichting Brein v Ziggo. The post was originally published on the Kluwer Copyright Blog.

On 8 February, Advocate General Szpunar handed down his Opinion on Stichting Brein v Ziggo. The case is significant, as it represents the first time that the liability of an internet intermediary for copyright infringement will be considered by the CJEU. To date, all decisions handed down by that court on intermediary liability have instead concentrated on the related question of injunctions against intermediaries whose services are used by third parties to infringe.

Questions Referred

The case finds its origins in the Netherlands, where Stichting Brein, a Dutch anti-piracy organisation, applied for an injunctive order against internet access providers Ziggo and XS4ALL that would require them to block access for their customers to the peer-to-peer file-sharing website The Pirate Bay (TPB).

That application was upheld at first instance, but dismissed on appeal, on the grounds that, first, it is the customers of Ziggo and XS4ALL, and not TPB itself, who are the originators of the copyright infringements and, secondly, that the blocking sought would not be proportionate to the aim pursued, i.e. the effective protection of copyright.

The case eventually made it before the Hoge Raad, the Dutch Supreme Court, which decided to submit two questions to the CJEU. Essentially, these ask the following:

  1. Does TPB, by providing a system through which metadata on protected works that are present on its users’ computers is indexed and categorised, thus enabling those users to trace, upload and download the works, engage in a communication to the public of those works for the purposes of EU copyright law?
  1. If the answer to Question 1 is negative, may an injunction nevertheless be issued against Ziggo and XS4ALL, requiring them to block access for their customers to TPB?

It should be noted from the outset that these two questions are seen by the Dutch court as interconnected. The Hoge Raad is essentially querying whether TPB must be an infringer before access to it may be blocked.

[To continue reading this post on the Kluwer Copyright Blog, click here.]

New Study on Intermediary Liability and European Copyright Reform

Dr Christina Angelopoulos, associate research fellow at the Information Law & Policy Centre and lecturer at the University of Cambridge, has authored a study entitled ‘On Online Platforms and the Commission’s New Proposal for a Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market’.

The study, commissioned by MEP Julia Reda, evaluates the provisions of the European Commission’s Proposal of 14 September 2016 for a Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market that are relevant to the issue of intermediary liability.

The study concludes that key elements of these provisions are incompatible with existing EU directives, as well as with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.

In particular, the study suggests that the Proposal misinterprets EU copyright and related rights law by implying that intermediaries that allow users to host content in a public manner are themselves performing an act of communication to the public. The study argues that acts of facilitation of third party copyright infringement are instead the rightful domain, not of primary, but of accessory liability, an area of copyright and related rights law that has not yet been harmonised at the EU level.

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New Special Issue of Communications Law: Information control in an ominous global environment

Communications Law JournalThe Information Law and Policy Centre is pleased to announce the publication of a special issue of the Communications Law journal based on papers submitted for our annual workshop last November. The journal articles are available via direct subscription, through the Lexis Library (IALS member link) and (coming soon) Westlaw.

In the following editorial for the special issue, Dr Judith Townend, Lecturer in Media and Information Law, University of Sussex, (the outgoing Director of the ILPC, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies) and Dr Paul Wragg, Associate Professor of Law, University of Leeds discuss the challenges of information control in an ominous global environment.

This special issue of Communications Law celebrates the first anniversary of the Information Law and Policy Centre (ILPC) at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. It features three contributions from leading commentators who participated in the ILPC’s annual conference ‘Restricted and redacted: where now for human rights and digital information control?‘, which was held on 9 November 2016 and sponsored by Bloomsbury Professional.

The workshop considered the myriad ways in which data protection laws touch upon fundamental rights, from internet intermediary liability, investigatory and surveillance powers, media regulation, whistle-blower protection, to ‘anti-extremism’ policy. We were delighted with the response to our call for papers. The conference benefited from a number of provocative and insightful papers, from academics including Professor Gavin Phillipson, Professor Ellen P Goodman, Professor Perry Keller and Professor David Rolph as well as Rosemary Jay, Mélanie Dulong de Rosnay, Federica Giovanella and Allison Holmes, whose papers are published in this edition.

The date of the conference, by happenstance, gave extra piquancy to the significance of our theme. News of Donald J Trump’s election triumph spoke to (and continues to speak to) an ominous and radically changed global environment in which fundamental rights protection takes centre stage. But as Trump’s presidency already shows, those rights have become impoverished in the rush to promote nationalism in all its ugly forms.

In the UK, the popularism that threatens to rise above all other domestic values marks a similar threat, in which executive decision-making is not only championed but also provokes popular dissent when threatened by judicial oversight. The Daily Mail’s claim that High Court justices were ‘enemies of the people’ when they sought to restrict the exercise of unvarnished executive power reminds us that fundamental rights are seriously undervalued.

Perhaps we should not be surprised at these events and their potential impact on communication law. In February 2015, at the ILPC’s inaugural conference Dr Daithí Mac Síthigh delivered a powerful paper in which he noted the rise of this phenomena in the government’s thinking on information law and policy under the Coalition Government 2010-15. In his view, following an ‘initial urgency’ of libertarianism, the mood changed to one of internet regulation or re-regulation. Such a response to perceived disorder, though not unusual, was ‘remarkable’ given how the measures in this field adopted during these final stages of the last government had been ‘characterised by the extension of State power in a whole range of areas.’ We should also note the demise of liberalism in popular thought. That much criticised notion which underpins all fundamental rights seems universally disclaimed as something weak and sinister. All of this speaks to a worrisome future in which the fate of the Human Rights Act remains undecided.

Concerns like these animate the papers in this special issue. The contribution from leading data protection practitioner Rosemary Jay, Senior Consultant Attorney at Hunton & Williams and author of Sweet & Maxwell’s Data Protection Law & Practice, is entitled ‘Heads and shoulders, knees and toes (and eyes and ears and mouth and nose…)’. Her paper discusses the rise of biometric data and restrictions on its use generated by the General Data Protection Regulation. As she notes, sensitive personal data arising from biometric data might be more easily shared, leading to loss of individual autonomy. It is not hard to imagine the impact unrestricted data access would have – the prospective employer who offers the job to someone else because of concerns about an applicant’s cholesterol levels; the partner who leaves after discovering a family history of mental ill heath; the bank that refuses a mortgage because of drinking habits. As Jay concludes, consent will play a major role in regulating this area.

In their paper, Federica Giovanella and Mélanie Dulong de Rosnay discuss community networks, a grassroots alternative to commercial internet service providers. They discuss the liability issues arising from open wireless local access networks after the landmark Court of Justice of the EU decision in McFadden v Sony Music Entertainment Germany GmbH. As they conclude, the decision could prompt greater regulation of, and political involvement in, the distribution of materials through these networks which may well represent another threat to fundamental rights.

Finally, Allison M Holmes reflects on the impact of fundamental rights caused by the status imposed on communication service providers. As Holmes argues, privacy and other human rights are threatened because CSPs are not treated as public actors when retaining communications data. As she says, this status ought to change and she argues convincingly on how that may be achieved.

Communicating Responsibilities: The Spanish DPA targets Google’s Notification Practices when Delisting Personal Information

In this guest post, David Erdos, University Lecturer in Law and the Open Society, University of Cambridge, considers the 2016 Resolution made by the Spanish Data Protection Authority in relation to Google’s approach to de-listing personal information. 

Spanish Data protection authorityThe Court of Justice’s seminal decision in Google Spain (2014) represented more the beginning rather than the endpoint of specifying the European data protection obligations of search engines when indexing material from the web and, as importantly, ensuring adherence to this.

In light of its over 90% market share of search, this issue largely concerns Google (even Bing and Yahoo come in a very distant second and third place).  To its credit, Google signalled an early willingness to comply with Google Spain.  At the same time, however, it construed this narrowly.  Google argued that it only had to remove specified URL links following ex post demands from individual European citizens and/or residents (exercising the right to erasure (A. 12c) and or objection (A. 14)), only as regards searches made under their name, only on European-badged search searches (e.g. .uk, .es) and even if the processing violated European data protection standards not if the processing was judged to be in the ʻpublic interestʼ.

It also indicated that it would inform the Webmasters of the ʻoriginalʼ content when de-listing took place (although it signalled that it would stop short of its usual practice of providing a similar notification to individual users of its services, opting instead for a generic notice only).

In the subsequent two and a half years, Google’s approach has remained in broad terms relatively stable (although from early 2015 it did stop notifying Webmasters when de-listing material from malicious porn sites (p. 29) and from early 2016 it has deployed (albeit imperfect) geolocation technology to block the return of de-listing results when using any of version of the Google search engine (e.g. .com) from the European country from where the demand was lodged).

Many (although not all) of these limitations are potentially suspect under European data protection, and indeed private litigants have (successfully and unsuccessfully) already brought a number of challenges.  No doubt partly reflecting their very limited resources, European Data Protection Authorities (DPAs) have adopted a selective approach, targeting only those issues which they see as the most critical.  Indeed, the Article 29 Working Party November 2014 Guidelines focussed principally on two concerns:

  • Firstly, that the geographical scope of de-listing was too narrow. To ensure “effective and complete protection” of individual data subjects, it was necessary that de-listing be “effective on all relevant domains, including .com”.
  • Secondly, that communication to third parties of data concerning de-listing identifiable to particular data subjects should be both very limited and subject to strong discipline. Routine communication “to original webmasters that results relating to their content had been delisted” was simply unlawful and, whilst in “particularly difficult cases” it might in principle be legitimate to contact such publishers prior to making a de-listing decision, even here search engines must then “take all necessary measures to properly safeguard the rights of the affected data subject”.

Since the release of the Guidelines, the French DPA has famously (or infamously depending on your perspective!) adopted a strict interpretation of the first concern requiring de-listing on a completely global scale and fining Google €100K for failing to do this.  This action has now been appealed before the French Conseil d’État and much attention has been given to this including by Google itself.  In contrast, much less publicity has been given to the issue of third party communication.

Nevertheless, in September 2016 the Spanish DPA issued a Resolution fining Google €150K for disclosing information identifiable to three data subjects to Webmasters and ordered it to adopt measures to prevent such practices reoccurring.  An internal administrative appeal lodged by Google against this has now been rejected and a challenge in court now seems inevitable.  This piece explores the background to, nature of and justification for this important regulatory development.

The Determinations Made in the Spanish Resolution

Apart from the fact that they had formally complained, there was nothing unusual in the three individual cases analysed in the Spanish Resolution.  Google had simply followed its usual practice of informing Webmasters that under data protection law specified URLs had been deindexed against a particular (albeit not directly specified) individual name.  Google sought to defend this practice on four separate grounds:

  • Firstly, it argued that the information provided to Webmasters did not constitute personal data at all. In contrast, the Spanish regulator argued that in those cases where the URL led to a webpage in which only one natural person was mentioned then directly identifiable data had been reported, whilst even in those cases where several people were mentioned the information was still indirectly identifiable since a simple procedure (e.g. conducting a search on names linked to the webpage in question) would render the information fully identified.  (Google’s argument here in any case seemed to be in tension with its practice since September 2015 of inviting contacted Webmasters to notify Google of any reason why the de-listing decision should be reconsidered – this would only really make sense if the Webmaster could in fact deduce what specific de-listing had in fact taken place).
  • Second, it argued that, since its de-listing form stated that it “may provide details to webmaster(s) of the URLs that have been removed from our search results”, any dissemination had taken place with the individual’s consent. Drawing especially on European data protection’s requirement that consent be “freely given” (A. 2 (h)) this was also roundly rejected.  In using the form to exercise their legal rights, individuals were simply made to accept as a fait accompli that such dissemination might take place.
  • Third, it argued that dissemination was nevertheless a compatible” (A. 6 (1) (b)) processing of the data given the initial purpose of its collection, finding a legal basis as necessary” for the legitimate interests (A. 7 (f)) of Webmasters regarding this processing (e.g. to contact Google for a reconsideration). The Spanish DPA doubted that Webmasters could have any legitimate interest here since “search engines do not recognize a legal right of publishers to have their contents indexed and displayed, or displayed in a particular order”, the Court of Justice had only referenced that the interests of the search engine itself and Internet users who might receive the information were engaged and, furthermore, had been explicit that de-listing rights applied irrespective of whether the information was erased at source or even if publication there remained lawful.  In any case, it emphasized that any such interest had (as article 7 (f) explicitly states) to be balanced with the rights and freedoms of data subjects which the Court had emphasized must be “effective and complete” in this context.  In contrast, Google’s practice of essentially unsafeguarded disclosure of the data to Webmasters could result in the effective extinguishment of the data subject’s rights since Webmasters had variously republished the deindexed page against another URL, published lists of all URLs deindexed or even published a specific news story on the de-listing decision.
  • Fourth, Google argued that its practice was an instantiation of the data subject’s right to obtain from a controller “notification to third parties to whom the data have been disclosed of any rectification, erasure or blocking” carried out in compliance with the right to erasure “unless this provides impossible or involves a disproportionate effort” (A. 12 (c)). The Spanish regulator pointed out that since the data in question had originally been received from rather than disclosed to Webmasters, this provision was not even materially engaged.  In any case, Google’s interpretation of it was in conflict with its purpose which was to ensure the full effectiveness of the data subject’s right to erasure.

Having established an infringement of the law, the Spanish regulator had to consider whether to pursue this as an illegal communication of data (judged ʻvery seriousʼ under Spanish data law) or only as a breach of secrecy (which is judged merely as ʻseriousʼ).  In the event, it plumped for the latter and issued a fine of €150K which was in the mid-range of that set out for ʻseriousʼ infringements.  As previously noted, it also injuncted Google to adopt measures to prevent re-occurrence of these legal failings and required that these be communicated to the Spanish DPA.

Analysis

This Spanish DPA’s action tackles a systematic practice which has every potential to fundamentally undermine practical enjoyment of rights to de-listing and is therefore at least as significant as the ongoing regulatory developments in France which relate to the geographical scope of these rights.  It was entirely right to find that personal data had been disseminated, that this had been done without consent, that the processing had nothing to do with the right (which, in any case, is not an obligation) of data subjects to have third parties notified in certain circumstances and that this processing was “incompatible” with the initial purpose of data collection which was to ensure data subject’s legal rights to de-listing.

It is true that the Resolution was too quick to dismiss the idea that original Webmasters do have “legitimate interests” in guarding against unfair de-listings of content.  Even in the absence of a de jure right to such listings, these interests are grounded in their fundamental right to “impart” information (and ideas), an aspect of freedom of expression (ECHR, art. 10; EU Charter, art. 11).   In principle, these rights and interests justify search engines making contact with original Webmasters, at the least as the Working Party itself indicated in particularly difficult de-listing cases.

However, even here dissemination must (as the Working Party also emphasized) properly safeguard the rights and interest of data subjects.  At the least this should mean that, prior to any dissemination, a search engine should conclude a binding and effectively policeable legal contract prohibiting Webmasters from disseminating the data in identifiable form.  (In the absence of this, those Webmasters out of European jurisdiction or engaged in special/journalistic expression cannot necessarily be themselves criticized for making use of the information received in other ways).

In stark contrast to this, Google currently engages in blanket and essentially unsafeguarded reporting to Webmasters, a practice which has resulted in a breakdown of effective protection for data subjects not just in Spain but also in other European jurisdictions such as the UK – see here and here.  Having been put on such clear notice by this Spanish action, it is to be hoped the Google will seriously modify its practices.  If not, then regulators would have every right to deal with this in the future as a (yet more serious) illegal and intentional communication of personal data.

Future Spanish Regulatory Vistas

The cases investigated by the Spanish DPA noted in this Resolution also involved the potential dissemination of data to the Lumen transparency database (formally Chilling Effects) which is hosted in the United States, the potential for subsequent publication of identifiable data on its publicly accessible database and even the potential for a specific notification to be provided to Google users conducting relevant name searches detailing that “[i]n response to a legal requirement sent to Google, we have removed [X] result(s) from this page.  If you wish, you can get more information about this requirement on LumenDatabase.org.

This particular investigation, however, failed to uncover enough information on these important matters.  Google was adamant that it had not yet begun providing information to Lumen in relation to data protection claims post-Google Spain, but stated that it was likely to do so in the future in some form.  Meanwhile, it indicated that the specific Lumen notifications which were found on name searches regarding two of the claimants concerned pre-Google Spain claims variously made under defamation, civil privacy law and also data protection.  (Even putting to one side the data protection claim, such practices would still amount to a processing of personal data and also highlight the often marginal and sometimes arbitrary distinctions between these very related legal causes of action).

Given these complications, the Spanish regulator decided not to proceed directly regarding these matters but rather open more wide-ranging investigatory proceedings concerning both Google’s practices in relation to disclosure to Lumen and also notification provided to search users.  Both sets of investigatory proceedings are ongoing.  Such continuing work highlights the vital need for active regulatory engagement to ensure that the individual rights of data subjects are effectively secured.  Only in this way will basic European data protection norms continue to ʻcatch upʼ not just with Google but with developments online generally.

David Erdos, University Lecturer in Law and the Open Society, Faculty of Law & WYNG Fellow in Law, Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge.

(I am grateful to Cristina Pauner Chulvi and Jef Ausloos for their thoughts on a draft of this piece.)

This post first appeared on the Inforrm blog. 

Media Freedom: ‘Without action the Commonwealth’s fine words will fail to impress.’

ICommonwealth flagn this guest post, journalist and Africa analyst Martin Plaut, calls on the Commonwealth to take a more robust view on new threats to journalistic independence. Do they challenge democracy and human rights as much as freedom of speech?

The Commonwealth has a problem: it has little credibility on the question of media freedom. Its members adopted a Human Rights Charter in March 2013 which stated plainly that: ‘We are committed to peaceful, open dialogue and the free flow of information, including through a free and responsible media, and to enhancing democratic traditions and strengthening democratic processes.’ Yet many of them have a less than savoury record in this area.

Out of 180 states assessed by Reporters Without Borders, Brunei is 155th, Singapore 154th and Swaziland 153rd. This is the summary of Brunei’s media offered by the BBC: ‘Brunei’s media are neither diverse nor free. The private press is either owned or controlled by the royal family, or exercises self-censorship on political and religious matters.’ Much the same could be said of Swaziland, while in Singapore the media is largely state-owned and journalists are restricted by rigorous defamation and contempt laws (The Guardian).

Where there has been dissent and opposition they have been suppressed. Consider the case of the Gambia, which left the Commonwealth in 2013. The newly installed President, Adama Barrow, has announced that it will return. In the upheaval and tension surrounding his election and the refusal of his processor, Yahya Jammeh, to accept the result, social media were disrupted. Twitter and WhatsApp, which had been used to organise resistance to President Jammeh’s rule, were unavailable, as the internet was cut. The return of social media was hailed as an indication that his 22 year rule was finally over.

Commonwealth journalists have now begun agitating for the organisation to take a more robust view. A Centre for Freedom of the Media has been established, led by William Horsley (another former BBC journalist). He welcomed the call by the new Commonwealth secretary-general, Patricia Scotland, for a ‘vibrant and responsible media’ and her claim that this is ‘vital to advancing our Commonwealth goals of democracy, development, rule of law and respect for diversity.’

But, as William Horsley points out, warm words are not enough. He called for action to support the declarations: ‘Journalists in the Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA), together with the Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust and some experienced lawyers and members of other professional groups associated with the Commonwealth, argue that it is high time for that to change. We are putting forward draft proposals for a Commonwealth Charter on the media and good governance, to be accompanied by effective mechanisms for assessing and helping to deliver remedies for serious and persistent violations.’

The media is a vital watchdog across the developing world. In many countries it is among the last effective forms of resistance to corruption and misrule. One only has to think of the role of the independent media in curbing the abuses of the Zuma government to see that this is the case. Yet they pay a high price for this work.

As William Horsley rightly observes: ‘The reality is that many journalists or bloggers have been attacked or even killed for their work in recent years in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Uganda, all Commonwealth states,’ (Time for a new Commonwealth initiative on media freedom).

It is time that these abuses end and that the perpetrators of these attacks are tried for their crimes. Without action the Commonwealth’s fine words will fail to impress.

This post first appeared on the School of Advanced Studies, Talking Humanities blog

Martin Plaut is a journalist and senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. 

He will be speaking at The Commonwealth and Challenges to Media Freedom conference (4–5 April at Senate House), organised by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.

It’s the inaugural event of the School’s Centre of Commonwealth and Media Freedom, and will bring together leading Commonwealth journalists, academics, lawyers, magistrates, judges, policymakers and human rights practitioners. Advance registration is required. Tickets: standard (£40), concessions (£15).

Signed Statement Condemns DHS Proposal to Demand Passwords to Enter the U.S.

A group of 50 organisations and nearly 90 individual experts have signed a statement against the US Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) proposal to ask non-citizens to provide the passwords to their social media accounts in order to enter the United States.

The social media password proposal was raised by Secretary John Kelly at the House Homeland Security Committee hearing on 7th February.

The signed statement, which has been organised by the Center for Democracy & Technology, recognises the United States Government’s need to protect its borders but argues that a “blanket policy of demanding passwords” would “undermine security, privacy, and other rights”.

To view the full statement with list of signatories please click here.

Call for papers: Critical Research in Information Law

Deadline 15 March 2017

The Information Law Group at the University of Sussex is pleased to announce its annual PhD and Work in Progress Workshop on 3 May 2017. The workshop, chaired by Professor Chris Marsden, will provide doctoral students with an opportunity to discuss current research and receive feedback from senior scholars in a highly focused, informal environment. The event will be held in conjunction with the Work in Progress Workshop on digital intermediary law.

We encourage original contributions critically approaching current information law and policy issues, with particular attention on the peculiarities of information law as a field of research. Topics of interest include:

  • internet intermediary liability
  • net neutrality and media regulation
  • surveillance and data regulation
  • 3D printing
  • the EU General Data Protection Regulation
  • blockchain technology
  • algorithmic/AI/robotic regulation
  • Platform neutrality, ‘fake news’ and ‘anti-extremism’ policy.

How to apply: Please send an abstract of 500 words and brief biographical information to Dr Nicolo Zingales  by 15 March 2017. Applicants will be informed by 30 March 2017 if selected. Submission of draft papers by selected applicants is encouraged, but not required.

Logistics: 11am-1pm 3 May in the Moot Room, Freeman Building, University of Sussex.

Afternoon Workshop: all PhD attendees are registered to attend the afternoon workshop 2pm-5.30pm F22 without charge (programme here).

Financial Support: Information Law Group can repay economy class rail fares within the UK. Please inform the organizers if you need financial assistance.

Reflections on ‘Freedom of Information’ at 250

Freedom of Information Act Sweden and Finland 1766

In December 2016, the Information Law and Policy Centre co-organised an event celebrating the 250th anniversary of the world’s first law providing a right to information. It was hosted by free expression NGO, Article 19 at the Free Word Centre and supported by the Embassies of Sweden and Finland. A full programme of the event and the audio files are available on the Campaign for Freedom of Information website. In this post, Judith Townend and Daniel Bennett reflect on a few of the key themes discussed at the event. 

Accessing information may no longer feel like a pressing problem. We live in an age of global telecommunications, the internet and the smartphone with access to ubiquitous 24/7 media coverage on demand. Our data is collected, tracked, mapped and analysed by social media networks, search engines, commercial enterprises, governments and public authorities around the world. And yet, 250 years after the first law providing for a right to information was passed, the right for us – the public – to access information relating to the administration of state power remains a struggle.

Our ‘Freedom of Information at 250’ event sought to put this struggle into its historical context. The event celebrated and commemorated the signing into law of ‘His Majesty’s Gracious Ordinance Relating to Freedom of Writing and of the Press’ on 2nd December 1766.¹ Enacted by the Riksdag (parliament) of Sweden – which then also included Finland – this was the world’s first law to promise public access to governmental information. Continue reading

Your next social network could pay you for posting

In this guest post, Jelena Dzakula from the London School of Economics and Political Science considers what blockchain technology might mean for the future of social networking. 

You may well have found this article through Facebook. An algorithm programmed by one of the world’s biggest companies now partially controls what news reaches 1.8 billion people. And this algorithm has come under attack for censorship, political bias and for creating bubbles that prevent people from encountering ideas they don’t already agree with.

blockchainNow a new kind of social network is emerging that has no centralised control like Facebook does. It’s based on blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and promises a more democratic and secure way to share content. But a closer look at how these networks operate suggests they could be far less empowering than they first appear.

Blockchain has received an enormous amount of hype thanks to its use in online-only cryptocurrencies. It is essentially a ledger or a database where information is stored in “blocks” that are linked historically to form a chain, saved on every computer that uses it. What is revolutionary about it is that this ledger is built using cryptography by a network of users rather than a central authority such as a bank or government.

Every computer in the network has access to all the blocks and the information they contain, making the blockchain system more transparent, accurate and also robust since it does not have a single point of failure. The absence of a central authority controlling blockchain means it can be used to create more democratic organisations owned and controlled by their users. Very importantly, it also enables the use of smart contracts for payments. These are codes that automatically implement and execute the terms of a legal contract.

Industry and governments are developing other uses for blockchain aside from digital currencies, from streamlining back office functions to managing health data. One of the most recent ideas is to use blockchain to create alternative social networks that avoid many of the problems the likes of Facebook are sometimes criticised for, such as censorship, privacy, manipulating what content users see and exploiting those users.

Continue reading

Book launch: ‘Private Power, Online Information Flows and EU Law: Mind The Gap’

angela-daly-eu-bookBook launch at: The Conservatory, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 
50 Bedford Square
London
WC1B 3DP
6pm – 8pm, 31 January 2017

This event is FREE but registration is required on Eventbrite.

Speaker: Angela Daly

With guest speakers: Professor Chris Marsden, University of Sussex; Dr Orla Lynskey, London School of Economics and Political Science

About the Book

This monograph examines how European Union law and regulation address concentrations of private economic power which impede free information flows on the Internet to the detriment of Internet users’ autonomy. In particular, competition law, sector specific regulation (if it exists), data protection and human rights law are considered and assessed to the extent they can tackle such concentrations of power for the benefit of users.

Using a series of illustrative case studies, of Internet provision (including the net neutrality debate), search, mobile devices and app stores, and the cloud, the work demonstrates the gaps that currently exist in EU law and regulation. It is argued that these gaps exist due, in part, to current overarching trends guiding the regulation of economic power, namely neoliberalism, by which only the situation of market failure can invite ex ante rules, buoyed by the lobbying of regulators and legislators by those in possession of such economic power to achieve outcomes which favour their businesses. Given this systemic, and extra-legal, nature of the reasons as to why the gaps exist, solutions from outside the system are proposed at the end of each case study.

Praise for the Book

‘This is a richly textured, critically argued work, shedding new light on case studies in information law which require critical thinking. It is both an interesting series of case studies (notably cloud computing, app stores and search) that displays original and deeply researched scholarship and a framework for critiquing neoliberal competition policy from a prosumerist and citizen-oriented perspective.’ – Professor Chris Marsden, University of Sussex.